Film, Netflix

“Arlo The Alligator Boy” flounders a bit but is otherwise fantastic.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a lot leerier of the whole “being different makes you special” moral that so many children’s cartoons try to espouse.I don’t know exactly why; I think it’s usually because the difference is something as simple as wearing glasses or having an unusual hobby, and sometimes the differences don’t exist in the real world.

Something about it just doesn’t line up with real-world discrimination.it doesn’t help that usually, the protagonists are white or white-coded, despite them trying to be allegories for discrimination. Sometimes they’re implied but never outright said to be neurodivergent but the character’s needs are presented as more of a quirk than anything else.

And let’s not even get started on sexuality and gender. (At least for now)

And Arlo the Alligator Boy falls into these same issues.

The Netflix original movie follows the half-human, half-alligator Arlo who was raised in a swamp by a woman named Edmee. When he is 15, she reveals that she found him floating in the swamp as a baby. With only his father’s name and location to go on, Arlo decides to journey to New York City to figure out where he came from and why he was given up.

On his way, he meets Bertie; a very large young woman as well as a ragtag bunch of outcasts who become his friends. Oh…and he’s chased by two rednecks who want to make him into an attraction at their theme park, but they’re not really important.

The movie has the typical themes of acceptance, loving yourself for who you are, and how being different is great; but it also has some beautiful animation and interesting character designs as well as one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard this year.

I have my criticisms, to be fair, but I am still looking forward to the follow-up series.

Musically Inclined.

Seriously, this movie has an awesome soundtrack. It covers a variety of genres, and each of them has a distinct sound. They’re all very catchy as well. 

The film’s gem is probably “Follow Me Home,” a song sung by Arlo and Bertie. It’s a slow techno-pop ballad, that follows the two as they connect with each other. It has some awesome visuals; especially with them playing in the ocean which reflects the night sky and the night sky itself.

The ocean imagery in the song is my favorite. The ocean is where both Bertie and Arlo can be free; for Bertie, the ocean feels like “home” and Arlo is most comfortable in the water.  It’s also a heavy bit of foreshadowing of Arlo’s father’s past.

There’s a Cajun-style song in the beginning, which is also Arlo’s “I Want” song. It reflects who he is and where he was raised. It’s a style you don’t hear too often in movies, especially children’s movies and it really helps give the film a sense of identity.

Each character kind of has their own genre of music that defines them. While that’s not uncommon, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it as distinctly as it’s done here. What’s even more impressive is that despite the variety of genres, I can easily believe they’re all from the same movie.

I really hope this continues when they make the series. And I’m excited to see these characters expanded on.

Unique Style

I love the character designs in this movie. Everybody is unique without being too ugly or poorly designed, nor are they “too cute.” All of the characters are interesting to look at. Especially Arlo.

He’s adorable. 

They could have easily made Bertie grossly overweight and purposefully ugly, but the movie avoids that entirely. Yes, she’s big, but she’s still got a very nice design. And the movie avoids making jokes at the expense of her size.

And the backgrounds are just beautiful. It’s obvious that the animators took a lot of delight in designing this world’s settings and backgrounds. There are so many times the film focuses on the night sky which is just glittering with thousands of stars. This is especially true during the musical numbers which are fluidly animated and take full advantage of the medium.

I hope the quality of the animation and design remains for the series, pretty much anything else would be a huge downgrade.

Characterization

Now, I don’t expect characters in movies like this to be three-dimensional but I DO expect them to have some semblance of a personality. Most of them don’t. Even Arlo isn’t a fully realized character.

Instead, he follows the same tropes as so many animated kids’ comedy leads do: he is always upbeat, always sees the good in people, naive and trusting. And because the creators want him to keep this attitude nothing about him really changes.

He has nothing to learn because all of his traits are already positive. He always has a positive impact on those around him. Those are aspects of his character that cannot be changed; so there’s nowhere really for his character to go.

This isn’t a bad thing and each character definitely has more than traits to make them interesting; it’s just that nothing is done with it in the movie so that makes it boring. 

It’s the other characters who need to grow, but the movie doesn’t let them. Because that growth is going to come in the series. Instead, it’s all about establishing the main personality traits and characteristics of each individual.

And I don’t love all the characters: Furlecia reminds me too much of Lumpy Space Princess and Princess Pony Head, both of whom I find annoying. I don’t get why people think an obnoxious woman with a male voice or heavy accent who is also hyper-feminine, is funny. Sometimes it feels kinda transphobic.

Marcellus was kind of a one-note character, and I think the film wasted time on introducing him the way it did, but it’s nice that he lends a calmer voice and attitude to this very hyperactive team.

I did enjoy Alia; she might be hyper but she’s not a  whole “net positive” character. She has a habit of getting into trouble and she’s pretty ignorant about the world. But she’s entertaining. It’s nice for Arlo to have somebody close to his age to interact with. (I don’t know how old Bertie is and Furlicia and Tony and Marcellus seem to be adults.)

She’s a lot of fun. And Bertie is also a fascinating character and I wish we got a bit more of her character and history in the movie. She obviously has a complicated history with people and I wanted to see that actually in the movie.

But, it just always feels weird to me that when movies that want to tackle the idea of acceptance and being different, always go with creatures or powers that don’t exist. I know it’s easier than talking about actual racism, transphobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and the like, and easier for kids to grasp…but it still feels weird.

However, I know that’s a silly thing to complain about and the story doesn’t suffer for it. The message – though….

Story Time

I hate to say it, but the story is the absolute weakest part of the film. There’s really no… conflict. I don’t know why it seems that so many children’s films these days are so devoid of anything resembling a proper villain. 

(I blame Disney.)

There’s no real issue with Arlo learning to get along with other people or trusting them. 

The group faces basically ZERO obstacles getting to New York City. Arlo doesn’t experience any kind of culture shock…and his issues with his dad are resolved pretty quickly. Y’know despite him abandoning his newborn son, he’s forgiven pretty easily.

There’s just not a lot of meat there.

I thought the story was actually going to introduce some conflict in the form of Stucky and Ruff, but despite them wanting to throw Arlo into an exhibit, they hardly factor into the plot at all. I think they get maybe five minutes total of screen time.

There’s nothing wrong with a film just being fun, especially when the animation is so lovely, and the music bopping..but there’s just not a lot ese there. All of the characters face the same kind of issue: discrimination and biases, but Arlo already liked himself and who he was. So do the others sans Bertie.

Arlo never really doubted being an alligator boy except for one musical number; it’s Bertie who really needed to learn how to love herself. But there’s no time for her and Arlo’s relationship to develop and I can’t buy her accepting herself just by knowing Arlo.

Like this girl has no family, that we know of, and she’s traveling around the country by herself and I’m supposed to accept that one little alligator kid made her love herself after one day? 

What is this Steven Universe?

The whole movie played out more like an overly long pilot; which I assume was the intention..but what were they going to do if the series didn’t get greenlit? Sure, it’s a fun movie but it’s missing out on some actual character development and story. And I think that’s the biggest issue: this film is an introduction to these characters and the world, it’s not its own story.

Also something that’s bothering me – people like Arlo are actually relatively common in this world; what’s the deal with putting them in zoos? Marcellus was rescued from an aquarium, so it’s not unusual but like, this is going to be dealt with in the series proper, right?

I’m gonna be so pissed if it isn’t.

That’s really what I’m interested in with this world, because like…that’s fucked up. Sentient humans are just locked in zoos and nobody blinks. Plus non-sentient animals also exist..so like what’s up with that?

And Stucky and Ruff are also going to be more of a threat…because I don’t buy them becoming good after witnessing Arlo and his father’s reunion. At least I hope they will.

The series is going to need villains and I better get a decent threat.

God…why am I getting this worked up over a perfectly fine and fun children’s movie? I actually enjoyed it for the most part.

I need a job.

And this pandemic to be over.

But for now, that’s the scoop!

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Grade: B +

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Year of release: 2021

Length: 92 minutes

Director and Story by: Ryan Crego

Screenplay by: Ryan Crego, Clay Senechal

Voice Actors: Michael J. Woodard, Mary Lambert, Haley Tju, Jonathan Van Ness, Brett Gelman, Tony Hale, Annie Potts, Flea, Jennifer Coolidge, Vincent Rodriguez 

4 thoughts on ““Arlo The Alligator Boy” flounders a bit but is otherwise fantastic.”

  1. That does seem like a weird movie, but I’m not sure if it would be my cup of tea. The whole “different people” storyline can come off as overoptimistic, and I’m glad you agree especially when it comes to racial metaphors or undertones.

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